Maplewoods (2003) Movie Review

The low budget zombie film “Maplewoods” claims to run about 85 minutes, but that’s a big fat lie. It’s more like 60 minutes if you don’t count all the dramatic pauses the actors in the film employs for no obvious reason in-between long and laborious dialogue. (Also, the film has perhaps the longest opening credit sequence in history; I swear it took another 10 minutes off the film’s “running time”.) The film itself has no original bone in its body, once again turning to that old — oh dear God it’s so old — generic storyline about a “government experiment gone awry”.

Our zombie film is about a group of Super Duper Elite Special Forces Badasses sent to secure a shack in the woods — er, I mean, a Super Secret Military Base — conducting one of those Super Secret Experiments Guaranteed To Go Wrong. (Although why some of these super military badasses are wearing ski masks and most of them are armed with only automatic handguns is a mystery only the film’s auteur can possibly explain.) The unit is lead by a General who looks much too young and is bringing along a Shady CIA agent who looks like a truck driver.

Underneath the shack — er, military complex — our elite soldiers discover that the place is crawling with zombies. Alas, since they were dumb enough to bring along a Shady CIA agent in the first place, the agent of course betrays them and some kids — er, I mean, Elite Special Forces soldiers — get munched by zombies as a result. Somehow, while the soldiers are still in the shack getting all John Woo-ed against the CIA agent (in a small shack, no less!), zombies have appeared outside and surrounded them. Before you can say, “Oh Lord, it’s a remake of George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead'”, it’s suddenly a remake of George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”.

As if being derivative while employing his out-of-work drinking buddies wasn’t bad enough, David Stewart elects to shoot some of the film outside, at night. Needless to say, shooting in the dark without artificial light is no way to make a movie. At least it’s no way to make a movie if you want the audience to be able to see what’s going on. Although I have to admit, seeing a soldier take on another soldier-turned-zombie by out-boxing him was pretty funny. Unfortunately this is the only scene in the entire movie played for camp value.

The rest of “Maplewoods” is played with such a straight face that one has to wonder how Stewart couldn’t figure out that camp was the only way to go. With so little to work with, most filmmakers would have realized early on that trying to make a serious movie is simply out of the question. But don’t tell Stewart that. “Maplewoods” is as serious as can be, even though one can’t help but notice that one of the Super Duper Elite Special Forces soldier is a brunette who might also be a midget. Or maybe she’s just really, really short.

Which leads me to this: the casting is simply horrid across the board. Even if familiarity with the genre makes one lean towards acceptance of this particular problem, you’d think the filmmakers could have done better, if just to cast older actors where appropriate. In this case, the actors are either too old or too young. Doesn’t anyone in their ’30s live around wherever this movie was shot? That said, it’s kind of hard not to laugh at the sight of a high school kid trying to play commando. Actually, casting high school kids probably explains why some of the commandos wore color-coded ski masks for no apparent reason.

As one of those throwaway low-budget zombie films, I suppose “Maplewoods” isn’t nearly as bad as most, even if it’s not terribly good by any stretch of the imagination. Still, you have to give David Stewart credit for one thing: the guy sure took things seriously, even if doing so proved to be the film’s biggest failing. If your cinematic diet includes the occasional cheapo Backyard Filmmaking, “Maplewoods” has some really funny moments. Unintentionally funny, of course.

David B. Stewart III (director) / David B. Stewart III (screenplay)
CAST: Thomas Reilly …. General Gibbs
Elissa Mullen …. Lt. Myer
Christopher Connolly …. Chaplain Johnson
John Martineau …. Sgt. Lake